Saturday, December 08, 2018

Tonight's Movie: A Man Alone (1955) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last year I shared the great news that one of my favorite Westerns, A MAN ALONE (1955), would be coming out on Blu-ray and DVD in 2018.

That time has now arrived, with the recent release of a beautiful print of the movie by Kino Lorber. It's described on the Kino Lorber site as a "new HD master from a 4K scan of the original Trucolor negative and positive separations."

As I wrote in my 2014 review of SADDLE TRAMP (1950), that film and A MAN ALONE were two Westerns I discovered and watched repeatedly when growing up. These relatively lesser-known films played a key role, alongside John Ford classics, in cementing my early love for the Western genre.

Although A MAN ALONE was a TV staple when I was a child, I went many years without seeing it. A used VHS tape purchased in 2005 proved to be such a poor print it was almost unwatchable. A much better print surfaced nearly a decade ago on the Encore Westerns Channel; in fact, that film's presence in the listings was a key factor which induced me to subscribe to that cable package. That's how much I love this film, a personal favorite over the decades.

Happily Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray is even better; I've never seen the film look so good! The Blu-ray print does an especially nice job showing off the lamplit scenes filmed by Lionel Lindon.

A MAN ALONE was star Ray Milland's directorial debut, and a number of historians I've read agree that it's also the best of the five feature films he directed. (I recently reviewed his second directing effort, 1956's LISBON, which is also newly available from Kino Lorber.) A MAN ALONE is a well-paced 96-minute film which takes place in three distinct acts, with the first half hour of the film being as close to a silent movie as one could come in 1955.

Milland plays gunslinger Wes Steele, who's stranded in the desert after his horse breaks a leg. He happens upon the scene of a horrific stagecoach massacre, and when he rides one of the stagecoach horses into the nearest town to report it, he's repaid for his help by being forced to shoot the trigger-happy deputy sheriff (Alan Hale Jr.) in self-defense.

The town banker, Stanley (Raymond Burr) -- who is the man actually responsible for the murders, as part of a robbery plot -- accuses Wes of the murders. Escaping the posse during a dust storm, Wes takes refuge in a cellar which happens to be the home of Sheriff Gil Corrigan (Ward Bond). The choice is fortuitous as the house is under quarantine due to the sheriff being ill with yellow fever.

Wes meets the sheriff's charming daughter, Nadine (Mary Murphy), and while she's naturally wary of the stranger who's appeared in her home, they gradually establish a rapport. The middle third of the film is basically a two-person character study as Wes and Nadine get to know one another and reveal much about each of their characters. When Wes misses a chance to escape in the night in order to help the exhausted Nadine tend her sick father, she realizes he's spoken the truth and is not a murderer.

The interplay of Milland and Murphy in this section of the film is quite delightful, as they each size the other up; Nadine is torn between seeing Wes as the rumored killer or the chivalrous man he actually reveals himself to be. There's an age difference between the two actors, but it's somewhat less pronounced on screen than one might assume from the actual numbers, and in the context of discussions Wes and Nadine have, the age difference and mutual attraction both fit and have always worked for me.

The last third of the film finds Milland confronting Stanley and fighting for his life and a future with Nadine. There's a beautifully filmed scene where Wes confronts Stanley late at night in the shadowy church.

The performances are uniformly excellent, including longtime character actor Arthur Space as the doctor. Milland's nonverbal performance in the first third of the film is particularly impressive; I've always been tremendously touched by his reaction when he finds a murdered mother and child at the stagecoach massacre site. Murphy is both sweet and spunky, and Bond is perfect as always as the sheriff.

A MAN ALONE's solid screenplay was written by John Tucker Battle, from a story by Mort Briskin. Filming took place on the Republic lot, with location shooting in Utah and Arizona.

For more on the film, my 2009 review may be found here.

The extras are led by a typically fine commentary by Toby Roan. (Character actress Minerva Urecal created her last name in tribute to her hometown of Eureka, California. Who knew?!) A trailer gallery for five additional Westerns available from Kino Lorber is also included.

Fans of Westerns and Ray Milland should make haste to snap up this release, as should those who simply enjoy exploring good little movies which aren't that well known today. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Really good to read your very fond review of this much-underrated western, Laura. Who would believe that a Welshman, Reginald Truscott-Jones, would not only look so at home in a western but have the 'feel' and understanding to convince both as star and director. These KL blurays are unfortunately very expensive to import BUT this film (plus the apparently superb narrative by Mr. Roan) could have to be a MUST.

2:04 PM  
Blogger john k said...

So glad that you enjoyed the lovely new transfer from Kino of this excellent Western.
You don't think of Milland as a Westerner nor do you think of Stewart Granger as a
gunslinger in the underrated GUN GLORY but somehow it all seems to work.
Some good news regarding a post I made on Kino's Facebook page is that although their
Paramount/Republic contract has expired it may be re-new'd in 2019...let's hope so.
Interesting also Sony/Columbia is the only major studio now not dealing with Kino-let's
hope that happens as well-so many wonderful Columbia titles that have never even had a DVD
release...Milland's HIGH FLIGHT to name but one...I cannot tell you how much I'd love a
Blu Ray of that one.
Regarding the Milland/Murphy age difference it's interesting that Mary was five years older
than co-star Joe Don Baker when she played his wife in JUNIOR big deal really but this sort of thing rarely happened in movies,even as late as 1972.
Barbara Stanwyck was certainly a trail blazer regarding this sort of equality.
I hope that if,hopefully, Kino re-new their contract with Paramount that they will release
the recently restored Republic titles especially the three Joseph Kane films THE
Trucolor and Naturama.
As far as other films that Milland directed I'm also very fond of his low budget
AIP thriller PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (also out on Kino on Blu Ray.) PANIC IN YEAR ZERO proved
that Milland could work wonders with a very tight budget.
Finally,I actually enjoyed LISBON a whole lot more than I thought I was going to,as I
have mentioned elsewhere it's quiet subversive at times.
I do hope people support these wonderful Republic re-masters so that we get lots more
in the future.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I have seen this movie only once, and many years ago. It is frustrating how these films seemed to disappear over the years through strange television programming. Your review highlighted the best of the film and the best of your regard.

3:04 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

The Milland and Mary Murphy age difference has little or no meaning. He is great looking and has a powerful presence, despite the face Bond is about the same age. Two yeas older. But he never projected that sexual magnetism. Think Gant and Kelly, Grant and Audrey Hepburn, Gable and almost anyone in the fifties playing against him. And with all modesty, from time to time, there are girls who like me, and I am much older than all of these people, but other than being flattered, nothing much happens. Well....

5:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for comments! I fell behind answering in December but my appreciation is no less sincere for that -- I'm grateful to hear from each of you, especially about a movie which is so special to me.

Jerry, that's a great point about Milland not seeing "on paper" to have been a potential Western star, yet he is perfect. What a shame these are so expensive in the UK -- the print is gorgeous!

John, yes, I really enjoy GUN GLORY too! Granger was as right for that one as Milland was for A MAN ALONE. I need to see PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO. Really hope Kino keeps putting out these Republic releases!

Caftan Woman, isn't it strange how some movies vanish from the radar screen for huge chunks of time? I'm so glad this one has been "revived" so to speak.

Barrylane, I agree about Milland and Murphy. Funny to think that Ward Bond was so close in age to Milland!

Best wishes,

10:12 PM  

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